When Jack Turner was a child in rural Colorado, he had pictures of all the Apollo lunar missions on his bedroom walls, along with Neil Armstrong’s words, “One small step for man, Bunny.” A giant leap for mankind.”

“I look at them every day before I go to bed, but I don’t think I ever imagined that I would be working on a NASA mission to the moon,” said Turner, a NASA Hubble/Sagan Postdoctoral Fellow. . College of Arts and Sciences (A&S) and its part Carl Sagan Institute.

Now NASA is returning to the Moon for the first time in 51 years – and Turner, an expert on the magnetic fields of exoplanets, has a key role to play: He’s the science advisor for NASA’s first radio telescope to land on the Moon. The base of the telescope will be laid. Finding habitable planets Observing Earth on radio in our solar system as if it were a planet.

NASA has announced the opening of a February 14 launch window from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, which is contracting with Intuitive Machines of Houston to carry science payloads to the moon.

The Intuitive Machines 1 (IM-1) lunar mission is one of about 100 planned by 2030 – part of a global race to the moon.

The Intuitive Machines 1 (IM-1) lunar lander will carry the ROLSES project, including the first ever radio telescope on the Moon. Image credit: Intuitive Machines

“I’m very pleased to see the resurgence of people who want to use the moon, not just for study but as a platform for other missions,” Turner said. “It’s the Goldilocks zone; it’s relatively easy for us humans to get there compared to other places, and it has some advantages. It has a solid surface to land on, and eventually people will make it to Mars and beyond.” Want to use as a base.

Turner said the moon is also “perfect” for observing Earth in radio. It’s far enough away that we can see the entire planet as a signal, but close enough that almost no signal is lost, establishing a “ground truth” scientists can reach several light-years away.

“I’m a little nervous,” Turner said. “It lays the foundation for a lot of research that I want to do over the next 10 to 20 years.”

Far, far away

Turner said a planet’s magnetic field, which creates radio waves, reveals a lot about its internal structure and the dynamics of its atmosphere — and maybe how its atmosphere interacts with its host star. Avoid being blown away by the wind, Turner said. These are all indicators of accommodation. Larger planets, such as Jupiter, emit more radio frequencies while smaller planets, such as Earth, emit lower radio frequencies.

Radio observations from Earth have revealed vast information about the gas giants of our solar system. Jonathan Lunine, David C. Duncan Professor of Physical Sciences and Chair of Astronomy (A&S). The huge array in New Mexico, for example, provides insight into the chemical composition of Uranus and synchrotron radiation from Jupiter.

“What we’ve learned about the atmospheres and magnetic fields of the giant planets in our own solar system is going to lead to some interesting things to learn about the extrasolar planets as well,” Lunine said.

The radio telescope experiment, one of six science payloads on IM-1, is called ROLSES (Photo Electron Sheath Radio Wave Observations on the Lunar Surface). Consisting of four antennas, each eight feet long and packed into an eight-inch canister for launch, the instrument will study the “photoelectron sheath,” a layer of charged particles just above the moon. There is a layer that can shrink the surface of the moon. electric charge. It will also observe radio waves from around Earth and Jupiter.

The best way to understand the magnetic fields of exoplanets is to observe their radio emissions, he said: “The radio waves we’re looking for with ROLSES are the ones you can’t hear with your ears.” So all the data they are collecting will be converted into information that they can visualize visually.

There are challenges when it comes to observing exoplanets from Earth at radio frequencies.

First, there is the intervention. “We can’t observe Earth-sized planets from Earth because our own atmosphere blocks signals in the same range,” Turner said. In addition, man-made radio chatter adds fuzzy noise to the observations.

Second, equipment needs to be captured. Until now, radio telescopes have only detected radio signals from an exoplanet system once – and Turner was the first to do so. In a 2021 study, he and colleagues Radio signals from the Tau Boötes system were detected Turner is also a key member of science using the Low Frequency Array (LOFAR), a large radio telescope based in the Netherlands, to study dozens of gas giant planets, including following the Tau Boötes signal in radio. Menu FAR, a newly commissioned radio telescope array in France. In fact, Turner recently Led the first exoplanet radio study with NenuFAR.. Exoplanets are predicted to have magnetic fields, so they may be emitting radio signals.

“The challenge is telescopes sensitive enough to detect them because these planets are very, very far away,” Lunine said. “There is no question that we will learn things from radio measurements of extrasolar planets.”

The future of radio astronomy

From its position on the Moon, ROLSES will be a step toward the future day when radio astronomy, which has been used to study all kinds of astronomical sources within our solar system and beyond, can detect exoplanets. is a robust method for observing livable

“Cornell has been a real leader in radio astronomy thanks to the construction of the Arecibo Observatory in the 1960s. It’s one of the institutions that is credited with developing the field,” Lunine said. “This is a real opportunity for Cornell to help take the next step in radio astronomy.”

Turner is the science advisor for another lunar radio telescope that will land on the far side of the moon in 2026. Lunar Surface Electromagnetic Experiment – ​​Night (LuSEE-Night)A collaboration between NASA and the US Department of Energy.

He is also on the science team for Farside. (The Pharoside Array for Radio Science Investigations of the Dark Ages and Exoplanets), a radio telescope array consisting of hundreds of individual radio antennas, each similar to ROLSES and LUSEE-NIGHT. Farside has been proposed to NASA to land on the far side of the Moon, where it would be shielded from radio interference from Earth. The team believes that Pharosside should be able to detect Earth-like planets 20 or 30 light-years away, but they have never simulated this with real data. ROLSES observations of Earth will provide the simulation data they need, as well as the expertise to study Earth-like exoplanets 10 or 15 years from now.

“We’ll simulate Earth as a planet so that when we have a farside, we’ll have a good base of what to look for,” Turner said. The team also hopes to use ROLSES and LuSEE-Night observations of Earth, Jupiter and Saturn to train machine learning algorithms to detect exoplanets with similar properties.

Beyond the Moon, Jack is a member of the proposed team. Go Lo (Great Observatory for Long Wavelengths) Mission, which complements FARSIDE. Consisting of thousands of small satellites, Go-Lo will be able to study exoplanets of all sizes within 16 light-years of Earth using radio frequencies. This distance includes the Earth-like planet Proxima Centauri b, which lies in its star’s habitable zone.

Turner said he is working toward a collaboration in the coming decades between radio astronomy and the James Webb Space Telescope, which looks at the infrared spectrum, in a synergy that will help direct resources toward planets that Most are residential.

Until then, the ROLSES project offers a similar motivation to Carl Sagan’s famous work in 1977 to convince NASA to send Voyager I to photograph Earth. The result is one of the most famous images in space science: the pale blue dot, showing a tiny Earth in the sun’s rays.

Similarly, ROLSES aims to point the viewfinder at Earth to lay the groundwork for viewing the rest of the universe.

“ROLSES won’t deliver the same grandeur as Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot — which is a lot to live up to. But it’s in that spirit,” Turner said. “We’re observing Earth as we would observe a planet. We’re understanding our place in the universe and using that to try to understand other planets as well.”

Source: Cornell University